Pacers take Bulls to the Brink in 98
By Scott Turken
They say the second 3-peat is the hardest. Okay, nobody says that, but it was the case for Michael Jordan’s Bulls in 1998.
Jordan, Scottie Pippen and company faced the Pacers in the ‘98 Eastern Conference Finals. Reggie Miller’s squad was experienced and tough. In Larry Bird’s first season as head coach, he had one of the deepest teams in the NBA that season to complement Miller: Dale Davis, Antonio Davis, Rik Smits, Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson, Jalen Rose, Derrick McKey and Travis Best were all part of the rotation.
The Bulls held serve and won the first two games in Chicago. But the drama increased as the series shifted to Indianapolis. In Game 4, Reggie Miller authored one of the signature moments of his career to tie the series at 2-2.
It’s rare that a series is remembered for a moment from a losing team, but one can make the argument that Reggie’s game winner and helicopter celebration is the one most fans remember.
The teams traded wins and the series went back to Chicago for a Game 7. The Pacers were just the second team to take MJ’s Bulls to the brink in a season when Chicago would go on to win the title (Knicks did it in 1992). Indiana took an early lead and their defense held the Bulls in check.
But ultimately, the Bulls – led by a three-headed monster of first name stars Michael, Scottie, and Dennis – won a close game 88-83. Chicago shot just 38% from the field that day, with Michael going 9-for-25. As was the case during most of the Bulls’ six championships, there was timely scoring from unsung players. Steve Kerr scored 11 off the bench and Toni Kukoc dropped 21 to help propel his airness to another title.
A subtext to yet another conquest for Jordan – he “got” Bird back for the earlier lessons in his career (such as MJ scoring a postseason record 63 points, yet losing the game and eventually getting swept in the first round series to Bird’s Celtics in 1986). Michael systematically crossed those rivals off a list, like Steve Buscemi’s character in the oft-memed scene from Billy Madison. Bird’s name joined Isiah, Magic, Ewing, Barkley and others.
The Bulls would go on to get their sixth title by beating the Jazz in six games. It was MJ’s signature shot on Russell that clinched the deal.
Nobody thought MJ would let himself be upstaged by Reggie’s heroics as the signature moment in the 1998 NBA Playoffs, did they?
Another one crossed off the list for the incomparable Michael Jordan.